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Plaintiffs Can Sleep Tight. If the Bedbugs Bite, They Can Sue (NY)

March 28, 2013

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In <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_01488.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i>Bour v. 259 Bleecker LLC</i></a>, a tenant brought suit against her landlord for renting an apartment to her without disclosing that it had been infested with bedbugs.  Despite the fact that she had not sought any medical treatment, her lawsuit included personal injury claims, and allegations of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Additionally, she sought punitive damages against the landlord.  But the trial court dismissed the action on summary judgment.
On appeal, the Appellate Division, First Department,  affirmed dismissal on the negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, stating that the plaintiff failed to show how defendant’s failure to maintain the property in a reasonably safe manner unreasonably endangered or caused her to fear for her safety.  The Court also agreed that the intentional inflection counts could not be sustained, because even though the defendant leased the apartment to the plaintiff while aware of -- and not disclosing -- bedbug history, that conduct did not rise to the level of outrageous conduct required.  Most importantly, the Court cited to the fact that at the time the lease was executed, NYC Administrative Code Section 27-2018.1 had not yet been enacted and there was no statutory legal obligation for landlords to provide notice of bedbug infestation history to prospective tenants.
The Court also affirmed dismissal of the punitive damages claim, as the landlord’s actions did not rise to the level of pervasive or grave misconduct of a quasi-criminal nature affecting the public in general.
However, the Court did not add insult to injury and allowed the personal injury claims to go forward.  Although the Court recognized that the lack of medical treatment could impact the monetary value of the claim, the fact that the plaintiff submitted both documentary and testimonial proof of the bed bug bites was sufficient to allow the claims to proceed.
Thanks to Michael Nunley for his contribution to this post.  If you would like further information about this case, please write to <a href="mailto:mbono@wcmlaw.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Mike Bono</a>.
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